Top 5 List of Free, Essential, & Best WordPress Plugins

Yeah, ANOTHER list of the best WordPress plugins. If you build WordPress sites you’ve seen plenty of these before. Why write another one? What more could I possibly have to say? And aren’t blog posts like this exclusively written for SEO?

All good questions. Ahem. I promise there will be some value here. heh.

Really, because so much of this kind of content online IS written solely for SEO value, it’s hard to find those which exist for a reason. Here’s my reason.

Best WordPress Plugins?

Most people use too many plugins or use plugins that are far too complex and code-heavy. And many of these ‘top 5 lists’ include fairly popular plugins that are just too damn big. Revolution Slider. No serious professional developer should EVER install that MOUNTAIN of bloat.

WordPress plugins are both a central benefit of utilizing the platform and one of it’s greatest pitfalls. Plugins are largely overused, code-bloated, not well maintained, and getting more attention than a better alternative. Knowing the difference between essential and bloat can be critical in ensuring a that your websites are fast, bug-free, and future-proof.

So then, this is a list of the 5 plugins I add to every WordPress instance during setup. There are a couple more I use often, but these five I can’t do without.

#5 Redirection By John Godley

This is one of the most critical plugins on the list and many don’t know why. The Redirection plugin not only makes it easy to create redirects but also generates a list of your 404 errors. Redirects are an important tool ONLY in eliminating 404 errors. So it only makes sense that a redirection plugin should report 404s that you can redirect with a click.

Who Knows Apache Directives?

While many developers program their own redirects, getting that working flawlessly turns out to be relatively challenging for developers who have less experience with Apache directives. It turns out that to program redirects in your .htaccess file requires a set of Apache commands that many front-end oriented developers might not have spent time learning.

The ability to quickly turn your list of 404s into redirects, particularly when you have thousands to do, can be an indispensable time saver. If you really want to use the best WordPress plugins you are going to be using this one.

Must Redirect 404s for SEO!

It is common that people building and running websites do not keep track of their 404 errors (dead links). People often delete pages on their site, delete and re-publish blog posts, change file paths and urls, or delete images, not realizing that these links are propping up their site rank. If half the traffic to your site just happens to be views of one image, not uncommon for small sites, then deleting a post with that image can break a link that was central to Google ranking.

At a larger scale, redesign and development of an established site can lead to devastating loss of search rank if all important redirects are not created. This plugin makes it easy.

#4 Wp Fastest Cache By Emre Vona

You should run a caching plugin and this is it. Caching plugins are one of the most misunderstood and potentially bloated kinds of plugins that are widely used. Many of the most popular options like Super Cache and Total Cache offer a huge array of options that many users simply don’t need. And many of these more complex options can be challenging to set up.

I just need a faster website

Website loading time is a VERY important concern. The faster websites load, the more time people will spend on them and the more of them that Google will crawl. Both of these are critical for SEO and engagement. Most users from casual to professional don’t really want to spend any time thinking about caching. We really just need it to work, and hopefully with as little set up as possible.

Unfortunately, at a larger scale caching involves a number of technologies that are relatively complex. For example, websites hosting a lot of very large images or videos may need to utilize a content delivery network (CDN). CDNs host your media assets on fast servers so they can be quickly fed to your site independently of the theme and text. Realistically, the majority of users don’t need a CDN and so don’t need a plugin built for that kind of integration.

Website Caching Made Simple

WP Fastest Cache makes website caching simple and foolproof. You just install the plugin, activate all the features, and it works. The plugin creates static versions of your pages and also minifies CSS and JS files. While the plugin offers premium features for $40, most users won’t need those. And in testing the plugin offers speed results comparable to all the more robust plugins available. This option really is one of the best for most people and is more or less plug and play.

#3 Yoast SEO By Team Yoast

Any list of the best WordPress plugins is going to include Yoast SEO. One of the most used plugins in the WordPress ecosystem, Yoast SEO is not really optional anymore. While there are other SEO plugins, Yoast is regarded as the best. This has to do with both the feature set and the author’s commitment to maintaining the plugin based on changes to Google search that affect SEO strategies.

The Best WordPress Plugins Can’t Be Replaced With A Code Snippet

The most important part of the Yoast SEO plugin is the ability it gives you to write original meta-titles and meta-descriptions for every page and post. Without this feature, it’s not really possible to easily provide this information which is totally essential to optimizing your content for search. At their best WordPress plugins provide features that would not be easily created by the user and this feature is a great example.

You Need An SEO Score

One of the features of Yoast SEO that is most useful is the list of ways that you can optimize content provided with each page and post. This list includes over a dozen things that you should be doing to create search engine friendly content and following the list not only makes your content competitive but also helps you learn how to craft more effective content, to begin with.

#2 Contact Form 7 By Takayuki Miyoshi

This plugin is perhaps one of the most used plugins on the internet. 25% of the web is built on WordPress and a large majority of those sites use Contact Form 7. The plugin is fool-proof, feature-rich, and dependable.

Dynamic Contact Forms

While it is possible to create your own contact forms using PHP, it’s fairly time-consuming and potentially challenging if you need multiple forms, want to include different kinds of validation, and want to integrate a service like MailChimp. With few exceptions most casual users and experienced developers simply save themselves the time and effort by using Contact Form 7. The feature set is adequate for most users, including popular features like auto-responding emails, custom error and completion messages, and the ability, with other plugins, to connect to popular CRMs like Constant Contact or MailChimp.

#1 iThemes Security By iThemes

WordPress gets hacked. I don’t know one developer who hasn’t had to rescue a site from malicious code. And so in my opinion, the single most important plugin you should install on every single WordPress website is a security plugin. I’ve tried a number of the available options. WordFence works well and I often use that to scan a site for malware. But a lot easier to use and relatively comprehensive is iThemes Security.

Security Is NOT Optional

The biggest mistake made my rookie WordPress developers is not installing and properly setting up a security plugin. WordPress has a number of often exploited vulnerabilities that can easily be avoided. Not taking the time to prevent hacking leaves you open to the possibility of having your domain delisted by Google or even losing your whole site altogether. I’ve seen both happen a number of times.

There’s No Substitute For Easy Setup

Other security plugins require a great deal of setup. While some have a few more options than iThemes, these options are generally only important for high profile and high traffic sites that would generally be more subject to hacking. For the majority of users, iThemes offers just the right balance between features and usability, allowing you to activate most of the primary features with one click and then making it easy to understand your other options.

The Best WordPress Plugins Are My Only WordPress Plugins

So again, those are not only my top 5 plugins but more or less the ONLY plugins I use. I entirely avoid any plugin that a small script or function could replace. That includes things like excluding categories from the blog, adding categories or page lists to the sidebar, including social media share buttons, integrating Google analytics, and creating shortcodes. It’s really important to ask yourself if a bit of digging will find a solution that is a LOT less code heavy.